Years ago, before allergies to it were discovered, penicillin was the only antibiotic doctors used to treat infections. Since its discovery in mold found on moldy oranges, it had been a relatively cheap and easy-to-make solution to what had previously been a deadly problem. Even today it is the most-used antibiotic worldwide.
Of course, it was discovered fairly quickly that many people had allergic reactions to it. But these symptoms ran the gamut between minor annoying rashes and life-threatening breathing difficulties. Common symptoms include rash or hives which could cover a significant portion of the body; swollen lips, tongue or face which could be severe; and itchy, red, irritated and bloodshot eyes.
More severe allergic reactions can be very serious. They might include a sudden drop in blood pressure and/or an anaphylactic reaction resulting in swelling of the bronchial airway making breathing difficult.
It became important to be aware if you were allergic to penicillin or not so you could instruct any doctors giving you care. This is still a question all doctors ask their patients and keep record of.
Chances are you’ve had penicillin and already know whether or not you’re allergic to it. If you’ve never had it, be sure your physicians know that. They will then take extra care if, or when, penicillin is called for in the future. They will watch for dangerous symptoms of this, the most common type of drug allergy.
In earlier years if you were one of those unfortunate few who with severe allergies to penicillin, you were just out of luck. For you, there was no alternative. Your doctor’s hands were tied and, like many before penicillin was discovered, you were likely to die from an infection we wouldn’t even give much thought to today.
It is still unknown why some people are allergic to penicillin and others are not. It’s also unclear why some have such severe reactions as to have life threatened, where others get only minor skin irritations.
If you have taken penicillin and experienced any of the symptoms mentioned, contact your doctor immediately. The most severe symptom, anaphylactic reaction, will present itself just about immediately. The more minor rashes and swelling may take a few hours to appear. Treatments for the symptoms are readily available; however a cure for the allergy does not yet exist.
Often, pediatricians will test young children for allergies to penicillin before it’s needed. This is a good idea. If your child has never had penicillin, tell your doctor. He can determine whether or not your child is allergic and, if so, to what degree. That way you’ll be prepared for any emergency.
If penicillin is recommended for your child and you DON’T know whether or not he’s allergic, make sure the doctors know that. They can take precautions before giving penicillin or give an alternative antibiotic for safety, depending on the situation.
Allergies can be much more dangerous than you might think. It’s important to know what drugs may cause you adverse reactions. In the case of penicillin this is especially important, because it is often the first antibiotic tried and it has the highest allergic reaction rate of any other drug.